During yesterday's Report stage debate on the controversial Terrorism Bill 2005, Home Secretary Charles Clarke tried to justify the reason for his call for 90 days detention without charge, but he failed to give one credible example of a case where this erosion of civil liberties might have been justified:
Mr. Clarke: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely correct that I did say that to the media after the meeting. He is also entirely correct that I was present at the meeting of the parliamentary Labour party meeting that the Prime Minister attended at which precisely these questions were discussed. I will address the question of detention that the right hon. and learned 9 Nov 2005 : Column 337 Gentleman raised with the Prime Minister earlier today. I can give him the example that he seeks from evidence given by Peter Clarke to the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
To answer the right hon. and learned Gentleman's earlier question, I shall quote what Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke said about whether the time period would make a difference. DAC Clarke said that he could point to a particular case as an example of terrorists evading justice because of the lack of such a provision. He said:
"had we had this provision in 2002, the outcome of a recent court case, the so-called ricin trial, might have been very different. Mohamed Meguerba was one of the suspects in that case and it is likely that we would have held him or applied for his detention for sufficient time to find that his fingerprints were on the ricin recipe and he would have stood trial as a main conspirator in that case had he not fled the country. As it was, he was not available to stand trial and so the jury were not able to benefit from his presence in the court. I cannot say whether the jury would have come to a different decision"--
of course he could not -
"but I think it would have been possible for the prosecution to present the case in a way which was easier for the jury to understand".
That is a compelling argument that 90 days might have made a difference and allowed things to be dealt with far better.
We are planning a future posting on the political meddling by, o ther cooption of "senior police officers," by NuLabour politiccians in this "90 day" controversy.
Mr. Howard: The Home Secretary will know that I originally raised this matter with the Prime Minister months ago. I asked for a briefing to test whether, if a 90-day period had been in force, it would have led to the apprehension of people who could not otherwise have been apprehended. The Home Secretary must know that the case to which he refers does not in any way justify the 90-day period. The evidence did not take 90 days to materialise. Will he now confirm—the Prime Minister refused to do so earlier today—that there is not a single case to which the police or anyone else can point in which evidence that became available 80 or 90 days after arrest was sufficient to charge the person who had been arrested?
Mr. Clarke: It is striking that the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes his point in such a way. He is right in one essential respect: we tried to work with him and his colleague, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden, over the summer to address these questions. He is right that we organised a briefing on Privy Council terms to consider such questions for him and his right hon. Friend. He says that he is not convinced by the case. He is entitled not to be convinced by the case—that is his right—but I believe that the case put by DAC Clarke to the Joint Committee on Human Rights was a powerful and effective argument for a 90-day provision
So why are we not convinced ? Perhaps the following comment by a Labour backbench former Minister might have demolished this argument ?
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): With great respect, my right hon. Friend has been misled on the ricin case, because the individual who fled the country while on bail was released by the police after two days in custody, not after 14 days. It cannot therefore be argued that they could have charged him if they had been able to hang on to him for 90 days. Will he confirm that that is the case?
Mr. Clarke: I can confirm that that is the case, but the specific example I gave demonstrates that there are cases in which the police, when making a judgment about whether to charge someone, can reach a decision that, in my opinion, is damaging to the course of justice.
So, having had his one single example of a case where 90 days detention without charge would have been effective, demolished, one might have expected Charles Clarke to have several other such "compelling" arguments to hand, but he did not.
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